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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Lewis Hamilton very much the man to beat going into 2018 despite Valtteri Bottas win in Abu Dhabi

The Formula One season came to an end at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday as Bottas deservedly won on the day, but Hamilton was the worthy champion for the season.

Lewis Hamilton has still not won a race in the same season as claiming the world title but that will be no reflection on his start to next year. Dan Istitene / Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton has still not won a race in the same season as claiming the world title but that will be no reflection on his start to next year. Dan Istitene / Getty Images

Four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton maintained a streak on Sunday when he was beaten to victory in the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by his Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas.

When Hamilton was crowned world champion in 2015, he did not win any of the three remaining races of the season, beaten to the chequered flag each time by then teammate Nico Rosberg.

After finishing fourth in Brazil and been runner-up here this season, Hamilton has made it no wins in five races held after securing the title in that particular season. His 2008 and 2014 championships were clinched in the final round.

As problems go, it's not the worst one to have, and the grin on Hamilton’s face when the statistic was pointed out to him in the post-race news conference, hinted that it was not going to cause him sleepless nights.

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“I think in previous years it probably dropped more than this year,” Hamilton said of whether he felt his level had dipped since he was crowned champion in Mexico last month.

“I think this year I tried my hardest to stay more on it, but you celebrate a lot. I think I still drove relatively well but I wouldn’t say it was 100 per cent like it was in the season.

“But what can I say? When you win with two races to go at the end you have got to enjoy it. I do and try and still turn up and do the job. It is not so easy.”

Indeed, Hamilton has earned the right to celebrate given this was arguably the most impressive of his four world titles to date.

Mercedes, for the first time since the era of the 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged engines were brought in to the sport in 2014, were given a real fight by another team in the shape of Ferrari.

There were days, particularly in the first half of the season, when the Italian team had the edge on the German marque.

Up against Sebastian Vettel, the only other driver of this era to match his success, Hamilton raised his game.

Granted, he was not always on the pace and there were occasions when Bottas was the better driver on a race weekend, particularly in Russia, Monaco, Austria and Hungary.

But Hamilton never lost his cool when times got tough. He was the only driver to finish all 20 races, and he made sure he scored the maximum he could on the days when victory was not possible.

When Ferrari’s form slipped in the second half of the season, Hamilton capitalised, turning a 14-point deficit over Vettel at the summer break into a gap of 46 points in the final standings.

For Vettel and Ferrari the race in Abu Dhabi was a reality check.

There was a lot for them to be encouraged about after Vettel won in Brazil two weeks ago, but here he was never in the hunt for victory. He was unable to make up any ground at the start and remained in third place.

Ferrari have closed the gap on Mercedes at some tracks, but on power circuits, which Abu Dhabi requires with two long straights, they are still lacking, and that will be an area of concern for the Italian team as they seek to go one better in 2018.

For Bottas, there can be mixed feelings to beating Hamilton in Abu Dhabi.

On the one hand it was a fine victory. He turned his weekend around well after being well off the time of his teammate in Friday's practice to take pole position on Saturday. Starting the race ahead of Hamilton was a fine job.

But the relaxed demeanour of Hamilton post-race did not suggest the body language of a man worried that he might have given his teammate a dangerous confidence boost for 2018.

Compare Hamilton's behaviour to that of 2015 when he was beaten at Yas Marina Circuit by then teammate Rosberg.

In the news conference after the race, the pair had bickered over who held the advantage going into the winter, with Hamilton keen to point out winning the title was more important than winning the last race.

There was none of that on Sunday as the pair chatted warmly and Bottas should see that as telling in the grand scheme of things.

Since the summer break, as Hamilton raised his game and went on a run of five wins in six races to leave Bottas trailing in his wake. The Finn was often unable to get within 0.5 seconds of Hamilton in qualifying, a huge margin in F1 terms when using the same machinery.

The Briton knows he has the beating of Bottas when the stakes are high, so losing out to him here will not likely live too long in his memory during the winter break.

Bottas was a deserved victor on Sunday, but when the season begins again in March in Australia, Hamilton will not be too concerned about his threat a title contender.

Instead, Hamilton will be looking over at Vettel and the Red Bull Racing Cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen as the challenges to his plans of becoming a five-time world champion.